I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as a book club pick during the dead time between Christmas and New Year’s, and resented it the whole time for not being a lightweight romance or cozy mystery. If I had read it in deep February, I might have loved it. On Earth is a novel about inherited childhood trauma written as a letter by the narrator, Little Dog, to his mother, who will never read it. It jumps from events before his birth – the devastating effects of the Vietnam war on his mother and grandmother – to his childhood as the main link between his family and their outside life in English-speaking Connecticut, his teen years falling in love with a boy named Trevor, and the aftermath as a young adult.
The rapid time jumps and overlaid stories can make it a bit tricky to follow if you focus too much on the timeline. My experience of the book was better when I stopped trying to understand everything and instead let the words wash over me and concentrated on absorbing the general message and feeling, similar to reading poetry.
It’s beautifully written, more poetry than prose, and the characters are layered and wonderful. The first half is genuinely upsetting, and the characters’ lives are largely cruel and brutal. But tiny moments of kindness and connection sparkle so brightly in comparison that reading them feels like almost physical expansion.
I read this book in the wrong headspace, and I didn’t connect with it as much as I might have otherwise, but I would eagerly recommend it to anyone looking for a tougher read.